Forgotten Rivers of the Tribal Lands

Forgotten Rivers of the Tribal Lands

Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape have plenty of fantastic river fishing which remains almost completely unknown to most fly fishers.  I consider these streams the hidden jewels of trout fishing in this country. My father grew up fishing many of these streams when he was at school and university. He often spoke of the great fishing they had in the tribal lands on the lower reaches of rivers such as the Ngwagwane, Ngungununu, Polela, Mkomazana and the Umzimkhulu. Back in those days the population of people was a lot lower and the rivers were still in pristine  condition. These days he was of the opinion that most of the fishing would ruined by erosion and over fishing by the locals. He used to take me to several places within these tribal lands which still had good fishing, and this sparked my interest in further exploring these areas. The lower reaches of the Umzimkhulu in the tribal land, now known as Thrombosis Gorge, was a place we fished several times in my school days. The Umtamvuna River was another stream we fished a few times. Once I got my drivers licence the doors were open for me to explore, and to my surprise I have discovered healthy populations of trout in some very unusual places.

For those who are unclear what I mean by “tribal lands”, they are the areas such as the Transkei and Ciskei where the black people were forced to live under the apartheid regime. The areas are now days fairly heavily populated and ecologically degraded. There are however some surprises that lie in store for the more adventurous fisherman who’s prepared get out there and explore a bit. If you want to fish these streams, be prepared to fish streams that aren’t always crystal clean and often surrounded by huts on the hillsides. If I am not fishing in Lesotho or the Drakensberg, then I’m almost certainly fishing some small stream meandering through some tribal lands. There’s something special to me about these streams. The quality of the fishing can be surprisingly good, but the fact that no other fly fisherman go there really excites me. In a way I consider some of them my private little streams that are my secret. There may be better and more pristine streams around, but not many people can claim to be the only one who fishes there. I keep a fish whenever I feel like eating a fish, and I fish where ever I want at no cost at all. I would recommend a courtesy visit to the chief but you are very unlikely to encounter any security issues. The people in these rural areas are almost without exception, warm and friendly people.

You may be wondering where these places are. I won’t tell you which are my favourite streams but I will give you a few ideas of where I have found decent trout fishing in the rural areas.

I have caught fish in the streams that flow out of the Hogsback  into the tribal lands. There are browns and rainbows but I have only fished for Rainbows in that area. The rivers that flow out of the Drakensberg to the north of Maclear have some surprisingly good fishing. The Luzi and the Tina Rivers, right near the tar road are the two that I have fished a a few times over the years. They are filthy most of the year but somehow the trout seem to thrive there and great fishing can be had in the autumn, winter and spring when the rivers are low and clean. Yes I fish these streams in the closed season, as it is the only time that some of them are fishable.

The rivers that rise in the mountains to the east and north east of Kokstad almost all have fish. They are small streams that are very overgrown and difficult to fish. They challenge your skills like no other streams I have fished. The main challenge can be to land your fly on the water as they are either forested or heavily overgrown. These streams mainly have Rainbow trout.

The Underberg area also has some great rural rivers. All the main rivers from the Ngwagwane River in the the south, to the Nzinga River in the north, flow from the Drakensberg into the rural areas. There’s some particularly good fishing to be had in the rural areas on the Mkomaas and Loteni Rivers. One of the biggest river fish that I almost caught was a Brown trout on the Loteni River near the main road from Himeville to Nottingham Road. It must have been a good 5 lbs. It was a severe case of over excitement that was my downfall that day. The fish in those rivers are skittish and very difficult to catch.

The Northern and Central Drakensberg have a lot trout rivers. I have fished a few of them but that’s not really my territory. One day I will get there and fish a few more, but for now the Southern KZN and North Eastern Cape rivers keep me very busy and very satisfied.

A general rule of thumb is any stream that looks cleanish, and is above 1000m in altitude will have trout. Don’t be put off by a few huts on the hills and murky water. Throw out all your preconceived ideas of what a good environment for a trout is. They keep surprising me at how well they can do in the dirtiest of streams. Get out of your comfort zone and go explore. JFDI…. (Just F ****ng do it)

Here follow a few pictures of my favourite 3 streams. They are technically very challenging but the fishing is very rewarding when you do catch something.

This was one of the most beautiful sights I have seen on a stream. Wild Crocosmia in full flower on the streams edge. not much fishing was done on this day.
A pristine paradise on the edge of wild flowers and tiny streams.
One of my favourite picnic places high up in the hills.


The bumb slides below where we picnic, and catch the odd trout too.
There is a brown trout of well over 20 inches in this pool, but I always seem to catch his smaller friends.
Sneaking up to fish into a very tight pocket.
A beauty comes to hand from picnic pool.
This pig was sight fished and took a Para-Daddy dry fly of mine. Undoubtedly one of my most rewarding fish that I have caught.
A beautiful forested pool.
Dieter Nischk stalking browns in a tight stream.
A beautiful fish that Dieter sighted and cast to in a very tight spot.
A cattle herder taking his cows out to graze
Walking up the river with my fan club. They are always horrified that I release the fish I catch.
A beautiful Rainbow from a Transkei stream.
Basil Doonan with a pig of a fish in a Transkei stream.
Winter in the Transkei is often the best time to fish. This fish was taken in early August.
The Transkei streams can get quite clean in the winter, even clean enough for sight fishing.


5 thoughts on “Forgotten Rivers of the Tribal Lands”

  1. Thanks Rex. The Umgabo Project will be hopefully offering fishing on some of those rivers at Mabandla soon. I’ll let you know in due course.

  2. Ilan I haven’t heard of that project yet. I look forward hearing more about it and hope it works well


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